January 20, 2002

Sheryl Crow Gets Around

Sheryl Crow gets around. By last count, she's singing with Kid Rock on his latest album, covering a Hank Williams song on Tribute (for which she's been nominated for a Grammy), singing alongside Stevie Nicks on her new album, 'covering' the Beatles' Mother Nature's Son on the "I Am Sam" movie soundtrack, crooning with Willie Nelson on the Country Music awards, chipping in on the Tribute to America album, and harmonizing with the cashier at your local Kmart. She's got a new album coming out in two months, on which Stevie Nicks and a bunch of other stars (Lenny Kravitz, Liz Phair, Don Henley, and the Dixie Chick Natalie Maines) will return the favor.

This 'playing around' is not just a Sheryl thing; it's the latest thing in the music industry.

After Grunge Rock in the early nineties, then Girl Groups in the mid-nineties, followed by Boy Bands after that, and whatever else in between, we now have 'cross pollination', and its all over the place. Tony Bennett had half the music industry on his latest offering, from Ray Charles to KD Lang to... Sheryl Crow. Ditto Willie Nelson. As Nelson puts it, "Good singers sing together because they're combining talent and mixing their fan bases." Read that: "helping sell each other's albums."

Of course this isn't the first time a whole bunch of stars have sung with Sheryl; witness her Sheryl Crow and Friends album, with stars like Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Chrysie Hynde, the Dixie Chicks, and did we say Stevie Nicks again?

It All Started with Led Zeppelin..

Maybe I'm biased, but this 'everyone-getting-together-to-sing-on-everyone- else's-album' thing seems to have started a few years ago, when Encomium, a salute to Led Zeppelin, came out. I had a music teacher back in high school -- Mr. Treratolla, music class in 1979 -- who once said no one would ever 'do' Zeppelin music, because they couldn't do it as well, and people would throw rocks. This was long before the word 'cover' was invented; ie, to 'cover' a song. Well on Encomium, everyone who was anyone 'covered' Zeppelin, and there was some outstanding work, including.. Sheryl Crow doing D'yer Maker.

Sheryl has been 'doing' this for quite some time.. her cover of the Chambers Brothers Time on the "Steal This Movie" Soundtrack was really terrific. People make a 'cover' or tribute album, they need a 'fun', 'uplifting' rendition of something.. enter Sheryl Crow.

And part of the fun is that Sheryl often screws up the song. She had barely taken the stage for her MTV Unplugged performance a few years back when she massacred D'yer Maker before the whole music world, blowing a high note right off the bat; sounding like a wounded bluejay. Then she got some of the lyrics wrong. At the end of the song she says playfully, "Sorry Robert." You gotta love it; it's adorable. Some don't think so -- my phone rang within seconds with a Zeppelin-fan friend of mine on the other end ranting about how much she sucked.

Her rendition of the national anthem at Shea Stadium in the 2000 World Series bombed; made me, a Sheryl Crow fan, cringe. Hey, that's life. Sheryl has, in her own words, an imperfect voice. It grows on you; doesn't grate. As does her fun, simple, having-a-good-time, let's-get-everyone-involved personality. So even when she fucks up a high note, you don't mind. And when you watch it a second and third time, you begin to like it even more (like I did when I reran the MTV performance).

But Why the Country Grammy?

Still, I don't understand how she was nominated for a Grammy for her Hank Williams 'cover'. I mean it was good and all; Sheryl takes a crack at yodelling. But it was just that -- 'good'; not great. Certainly not as great as her cover of Zeppelin's D'yer Maker, which is probably better than Zep's version, or her cover of the Chambers Brothers' Time. And it's a cover -- not an original song. How do you nominate someone for a Grammy for covering a song? Seems like the country music nominators on the Grammy board were so happy Sheryl did a country song, they wet themselves and nominated her.

Photo at left: Sheryl Crow live -- at free concert in Battery Park, NYC, during C'mon, C'mon tour, 2002. 

Sheryl's New Album

Sheryl Crow is soon to release her fourth album, and with it has come an image makeover. Back is Sheryl Crow as the female rock star most guys over 30 would want to go to bed with. Gone is the short haircut and down-played appearance that she invoked after rocketing to international stardom several years ago. The story goes that Sheryl got a lot of grief for her first album, when members of the "Tuesday Night Music Club" accused her of ripping off some of their stuff, and jettisoning to fame because she was pretty and cute, which is exactly what happened when her video Leaving Las Vegas got nonstop airplay on MTV. As much as Sheryl's sparkling white teeth and long flowing hair and cutesy appeal in the video rocketed her career, they put an Achilles heel in it at the same time, giving opponents ample ammunition to write her off as 'fluff' -- an accusation she took the time to refute on her second album ("If It Makes You Happy").

Sheryl is a fairly serious musician -- she was a music teacher in her native backwoods of Missouri -- and plays multiple instruments, including guitar, accordion, and piano. So I'm sure the accusations of being just another pretty face galled her. Off came the hair in an attempt to imitate, if not look like, the well-respected but fairly plain-looking Emmylou Harris, who has made a career out of singing on everyone else's albums.

Now just turned 40, Sheryl, as she says, is flaunting it while she's still got it, turning up nearly nude in a recent Stuff magazine layout, and appearing live at the Grammy's in some sort of neglige. 

Still a Big Fan

I remain a big fan of Sheryl Crow's. She is part country; she is part rock-and-roll; and she's just about everywhere, which is a good thing for those of you like me who find her singing to be a perk on any album she appears on, especially if she screws it up. 

Stevie Nicks looks like she's literally clinging to Sheryl Crow in this picture, but it was actually Sheryl who grew up emulating Stevie Nicks.

-- LouV